Siteman Reunites Transplant Patient and Donor

Sept. 20. 2006 – “SMUD the bear” has seen a lot over the past couple of years.

As a constant companion of Angela Otten, the stuffed animal has been with her through numerous health problems, most significantly a bone marrow transplant and five hospitalizations.

SMUD was in for more than he bargained for as he stood with St. Charles native Otten, 20, in front of a crowd of over 400 people at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel ballroom on September 15. 

He got to meet the person who saved his companion’s life.

As the Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine held its 13th annual “Bone Marrow Transplant Survivorship Celebration” at the Ritz, Otten was introduced as the evening’s final speaker by John DiPersio, MD, PhD, director of the section of BMT/Leukemia and medical oncology at Siteman. 

She spoke of her illness, and the struggles she’s had through a leukemia diagnosis at 18 years old.  She spoke about how her life changed from looking forward to college at Truman State University to being devastated by a cancer diagnosis three weeks after her high school graduation and how only a bone marrow transplant would save her life.  She thanked everyone close to her who helped her through her illness after she had her transplant, namely her mom Peggy and friend Emily. 

But she had special thanks to a man she had never met. 

“I thank the donor who took time out of his life to save mine,” said Otten.

She spoke of an unrelated donor, who made possible a stem cell transplant on November 12, 2004 that saved her life.  He had not only given her the gift of life, but the gift of the stuffed animal she named “SMUD” (an acronym in part for “Slightly Mismatched Unrelated Donor.”)  While they had only communicated through third parties due to rules from the National Marrow Donor Program, they had shared letters and she hoped one day to meet him and thank him.

It was then Dr. DiPersio made her wish possible.  Roy McLain, walked to the stage with his wife Kristie and nine year-old daughter Heather.  McLain, 32, had traveled from his hometown of Benton, TN to meet the stranger who meant so much to him.

“I had donated blood hoping to be a match a girl named Kayla, the daughter of a lady I worked with,” said McLain.  “I wasn’t a match, but a couple of months later I got a call saying I was a match for someone else and they asked if I’d donate.”

There was no hesitation.  “It made me feel great being able to help somebody,” said McLain.  “It’s an honor many don’t get and that’s a chance to save another’s life.”

“We always talked about who the donor might be,” said Otten.  “I can’t describe how great it is to finally meet him.”

It’s the second year in the 13-year history of the bone marrow transplant event that a recipient met a donor for the first time.  “It’s all part of honoring the patients through the strength and courage as they go through the transplant process,” said Linda Laub, RN, outpatient nursing manager in the division of stem cell transplantation, leukemia and lymphoma at Siteman.

Overall, the Siteman Cancer Center's Bone Marrow Transplant Program is one of the largest in the world.  Since 1975, over 3,000 patients have received bone marrow or stem cell transplants for diseases such as leukemia, Hodgkin’s disease, and advanced stages of breast and ovarian cancer through the program.

Otten said if not for donors like McLain, none of it would be possible.  “I owe him so much.”

In addition to the reunion between Otten and McLain, two American Airlines tickets were raffled off to one lucky transplant survivor.  The winner, Sharon Boyer of St. Charles – transplanted June 14, 1999 – is thinking of using the tickets for a trip to Hawaii.